With ‘Mean Girls,’ When Trailers Hit Mute on the Musical

With ‘Mean Girls,’ When Trailers Hit Mute on the Musical

Regina George has a secret. She sings.

Despite what its marketing might suggest, “Mean Girls” (in theaters), the latest in a set of pink-accented nesting dolls, is irrefutably a movie musical. Adapted from the 2018 Broadway musical, which was itself based on the 2004 film, which was in turn inspired by the 2002 nonfiction book “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” this new version has singing. It has dancing. It has one delectable moment in which the members of the school marching band raise their saxophones and tubas high.

Barring a split-second shot of the band, you wouldn’t know that from the film’s trailers. The first trailer, from November — set to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Get Him Back!” — included no original music. It was made to look instead like a vaguely edgier remix of the 2004 film.

The second trailer, which arrived on Jan. 3, offers a line or two of “Meet the Plastics,” then cedes the soundtrack to a new song, a collaboration between Megan Thee Stallion and Renée Rapp, who plays Regina, the suburban high school’s apex predator. That song, “Not My Fault,” is admittedly in the actual movie. It plays over the credits.

These “Mean Girls” trailers join “Wonka,” which opened Dec. 15 and “The Color Purple,” which opened on Christmas Day, as films that have spent much of their marketing budget downplaying and disguising their vexed status as movie musicals. At the close of the “Wonka” trailer, Hugh Grant’s Oompa-Loompa threatens to break into song, only for Timothée Chalamet’s Wonka to say, “I don’t think I want to hear that.” This from a character who invents a chocolate that makes people burst into song!

Why would these trailers echo the chocolatier? Admittedly, some recent movie musicals, such as Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “In the Heights” foundered at the box office. And present-day Hollywood persists in seeing properties not aimed at superhero-loving men as niche. Deadline recently asserted that test audiences tend to snub musicals and that the only way to attract ticket buyers is to conceal the song and dance, like sneaking grated vegetables into brownie batter.

Or maybe it’s the other way around: Musicals are nothing if not dessert. Whom are these studios trying to fool? And for how long? Once the tap shoes come out, even the most credulous viewer has to catch on. If that viewer dislikes musicals, the revelation can’t come as a happy surprise.

Are there really so many people out there who see musicals as a disincentive? Not everyone identifies as a drama geek, but song and dance are not obscure enthusiasms. We wouldn’t have many seasons of “The Voice” or “Dancing With the Stars” or “The Masked Singer” if they were. Yes, those 2021 movie musicals underperformed, but the pandemic — and in the case of “In the Heights,” simultaneous streaming — was at least partly to blame. And none of them improved on the stage originals. (A fine exception is 2022’s “Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the Musical.”)

This is the problem of most contemporary musicals — a distrust of the form, a reluctance to commit to the wonder and fantasy that a musical can provide. That’s apparent in “Mean Girls,” which seems lightly embarrassed by any number that can’t be rendered diegetic or discounted as a dream sequence. Even “The Color Purple” evinces some discomfort at integrating the song-and-dance into the more sober story of a woman’s triumph over neglect and abuse. Despite what its trailer suggests, “Wonka,” by contrast, stages its few songs with glee and abandon. That goes even for the presumably dour “Scrub Scrub,” which I’ve found myself humming while washing dishes.

This season has had at least one example of a movie proudly owning its theatricality, from the trailer on. (Well, two examples if the ecstatic, demented “Dicks: The Musical” counts.) That would be “Barbie.” It’s not quite a musical, but it does include original songs, a cover or two and an exuberant dream ballet. The “Barbie” trailer never denies this, with Margot Robbie’s Barbie extolling a party at her house as having “planned choreography and a bespoke song.” A few seconds and a dance break later, she’s warbling along to “Closer to Fine.”

“Barbie” has earned more than $1.4 billion. So it’s safe to say that a trailer celebrating its song and dance disincentivized no one.

That trailer ends with Cass Elliot’s prompt to “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” These new movie musicals have done that. Why not celebrate it?

#Girls #Trailers #Hit #Mute #Musical

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